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Natural resources remain backbone of Canada’s trade and prosperity


6 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Jock Finlayson and Elmira Aliakbari

It’s hard to overstate the importance of energy to our economy. In its latest “scorecard” report, the Coalition for a Better Future notes that “over the past decade, Canada recorded a cumulative trade gap of $130 billion. Had it not been for energy, our trade gap would have been about $1 trillion.” By any measure, the energy sector punches above its weight when paying Canada’s bills.

Canada is a mid-sized economy accounting for roughly 2 per cent of global production. Within North America, we represent less than one-tenth of the collective output of the three national economies. Canada is also an “open” economy that relies on cross-border flows of trade, investment and knowledge to sustain our high living standards.

To pay our way in an unforgiving and very competitive world, Canada must produce and sell exports to customers in other markets. Among other benefits, these exports furnish the financial means to pay for the vast array of imports that enhance the wellbeing of Canadian households and allow many of our businesses to operate efficiently and grow.

In 2022, Canada exported $779 billion of goods to other countries, and $161 billion of services, for a total of $940 billion. About three-quarters of Canada’s exports are destined for a single market—the United States. Canada also sources the bulk of imports from the U.S.

A hard truth about Canada’s trade is the outsized role of natural resource-based products in the export mix. Added together, energy, non-metallic minerals (and related products), metal ores, forest products and agri-food (i.e. food produced from agriculture) comprise roughly half of Canada’s international exports of goods and services—a notably larger share than in other countries with advanced economies (apart from Australia and New Zealand).

Energy alone accounted for 27 per cent of Canada’s merchandise exports in 2022, generating $212 billion for Canadian businesses, workers and governments. Mining contributed $85 billion in export revenues, followed by forest products ($60 billion) and agri-food ($57 billion).

Within the broad energy basket, oil and oil-based products dominate, accounting for more than three-quarters of all energy-based export revenues. Despite innumerable speeches and press releases issued by the federal government, energy’s contribution to Canada’s exports is poised to increase in the next few years—due not to growing exports of “clean tech” goods, carbon-free electricity or hydrogen, but to pending liquefied natural gas (LNG) production in British Columbia coupled with rising volumes of Western Canadian oil shipments following the completion of pipeline expansion projects.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of energy to our economy. In its latest “scorecard” report, the Coalition for a Better Future notes that “over the past decade, Canada recorded a cumulative trade gap of $130 billion. Had it not been for energy, our trade gap would have been about $1 trillion.” By any measure, the energy sector punches above its weight when paying Canada’s bills. The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, for the other major resource sectors.

Many Canadians, huddled in increasingly unaffordable urban communities that have few evident connections to the country’s natural resource economy, may be puzzled by the continued vital importance of resource extraction and processing to Canada’s prosperity.

Ultimately, any trading country has a ledger showing the trade surpluses and trade deficits of its industry sectors. In Canada’s case, a handful of sectors generate significant trade surpluses, which help finance the large trade deficits incurred in other parts of the economy.

The story is a simple one—positive trade balances in the energy, mining, forestry and agri-food sectors offset chronic—and in some cases fast-growing—trade deficits in consumer goods, chemicals and plastics, motor vehicles/parts, and industrial and electronic goods. Canada also runs a smallish deficit in our overall services trade.

The sectoral trade data are informative. Among other things, they tell us where Canada has a “comparative advantage” in the global context. For a market economy, a pattern of positive trade balances is evidence that it has a comparative advantage in industries that reliably report trade surpluses.

Armed with such information, smart policymakers should create and sustain a business and investment climate that champions and bolsters the commercial success of industries that underpin the export economy. This is a message the Trudeau government has had trouble digesting, perhaps because it relies heavily on the votes of a few large metropolitan areas while most rural and resource-dependent regions remain a political afterthought.

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Trump’s Promise Of American Abundance, Fueled By ‘Liquid Gold’

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation



One of the brightest nuggets of policy in Donald Trump’s July 18 acceptance speech to the Republican convention in Milwaukee was his ode to “liquid gold.” That is, oil.

As part of his inflation-fighting plan, Trump offered a gleaming solution: increase energy production, thereby decreasing energy prices. “By slashing energy costs,” Trump declared, “we will in turn reduce the cost of transportation, manufacturing and all household goods.”

He continued: “We have more liquid gold under our feet than any other country by far. We are a nation that has the opportunity to make an absolute fortune with its energy.”

Indeed. According to the Institute for Energy Research (IER) technically recoverable oil resources in the U.S. total 2.136 trillion barrels. At the current price of around $80 a barrel, that’s some $171 trillion. And so, Trump concluded, “we will reduce our debt, $36 trillion.”

As former Alaska governor Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.” In Palin’s Alaska, oil is so abundant, relative to the population, that everyone gets a check from the state. Last year, it was $1,312. For a family of four, that’s more than $5000. Our goal should be that every American gets such an energy dividend.

Moreover, the abundance of America’s carbon fuels is not limited to oil. According to IER, we have 3.391 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s worth $165 trillion.

To be sure, these staggering dollar totals can’t be counted directly against the national debt—or in support of some future tax cut. Yet every dollar of our energy assets would contribute to the economy, and if even 10  percent of the humongous total could be available to the public, we could, in fact, pay off the national debt.

Moreover, thanks to fracking and other enhanced recovery techniques, we keep finding more energy: Human ingenuity has upended old beliefs about energy shortages, ushering in an almost Moore’s Law-ish surge in production.

Indeed, there’s so much oil and gas (and coal) that an emerging school of thought holds that carbon fuels aren’t “fossil” at all, but rather, the product of earth’s vulcanism. The core of this earth, after all, is the same temperature as the surface of the sun. Perhaps all that heat is cooking something.

In any case, we keep finding more oil, and not just in the U.S.

So how, exactly, do we take advantage of this planetary cornucopia? As Palin said, as Trump said, and as the convention crowd chanted, “drill, baby, drill.”

Okay, but what about climate change? Most Republicans don’t worry too much about that, but if Democrats do, they should be reassured that we can capture the carbon and so take it out of the atmosphere. Trees and other green vegetation have been capturing carbon for eons; the element is, in fact, vital to their very existence. Similarly, the human body is 18 percent carbon. Yes, all of us ourselves are carbon sinks.

So we, being smart, can capture vastly more carbon — capturing it in everything from wood to cement, from plastics to nanotubes. These in turn can be landfill, construction materials — maybe even a space elevator.

We can, in fact, establish a a circular carbon economy: carbon fuels extracted, burned, and then recycled back into feedstocks. By this reckoning, carbon fuels are renewable. Such creative thinking can power all those energy-hungry data centers on which Big Tech and AI depend. So there’s the makings of a bipartisan “Grand Carbon Bargain,” uniting mostly blue-state tech with mostly red-state energy. More energy + more tech = more wealth for all.

In Milwaukee, Trump spoke of American “energy dominance,” and that’s great. But with all the energy we can produce and consume, we can speak of economic abundance — and that’s even greater.

James P. Pinkerton served in the White House domestic policy offices of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is the author, most recently, of “The Secret of Directional Investing: Making Money Amidst the Red-Blue Rumble.”

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Jordan Peterson interviews Alberta Premier Danielle Smith

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This episode was recorded on June 29th, 2024

Dr. Peterson’s extensive catalog is available now on DailyWire+:


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